Category: News

2017 OFNC award winners at the Ottawa Regional Science Fair

by Lucy Patterson

A raven’s view of the Ottawa Regional Science Fair at Carleton University

It is that time of year again – when young scientists come together to present their science projects at the Ottawa Regional Science Fair. On March 31st and April 1st, 2017, students from grades 7 to 12 from the Ottawa-Gatineau region presented science projects attempting to answer a number of questions. Is it possible to buffer ocean acidification with baking soda? Can cilantro remove lead from contaminate water? Can invasive plants be used to absorb oil in a marina?

Since 1961, this volunteer-run event has encouraged students to design, develop, and present research projects in science and engineering. The students with the best projects are then invited to participate in a Canada-Wide Science Fair. This year, the Ottawa Regional Science Fair was held at Carleton University’s “Raven’s Nest.”

Every year, the OFNC presents awards to the creators of two or three outstanding projects that “demonstrate a knowledge of some aspect of natural history, field ecology, or wildlife conservation.” I have judged these projects with Kathy Conlan, a research scientist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, for the past three years.

Students nominate themselves for the award, and this year there were 16 entries. It was wonderful to see so many projects tackling environmental issues!

This year’s OFNC award winners were Daniel Anderson, for his invention to provide housing for pollinators ranging from bees to beetles and lacewings (“La demeure des pollinisateurs”); Julianne Jeger, for her project examining which type of road salt had the least impact on plants (“L’impact du sel de route sur les fleurs sauvages”); and Ryland Ferrall, for his project demonstrating the effectiveness of the polyphenols in tea for slowing the spread of oil during an oil spill (“The Polyphenol Effect”). Each project was awarded a $100 prize. Congratulations to Daniel, Julianne, and Ryland for their exceptional projects!

Daniel Anderson, second-time winner of the OFNC award, in front of his project, “La demeure des pollinisateurs”

Julianne Jager in front of her project, “L’impact du sel de route sur les fleurs sauvages”

Ryland Ferrall in front of his project, “The Polyphenol Effect”


Victory! An end to the Snapping Turtle hunt

by David Seburn

“Snapping Turtles take about 20 years to reach maturity in Ontario” – that’s a long time to survive before being able to reproduce! (photo by David Seburn)

Earlier this year, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) released proposed changes to the hunting regulations for the province. Among them was a proposal to shorten – but not end – the hunting period for the Snapping Turtle.

The Snapping Turtle is listed as a species at risk both provincially and federally. The management plan for the species clearly states, “Considering the reproductive strategy of the Snapping Turtle (i.e., delayed sexual maturity, high embryo mortality, extended adult longevity…), harvesting (legal or illegal) of adults and older juveniles is especially harmful for wild populations.”

The hunting of turtles is rarely sustainable given their life histories. Snapping Turtles take about 20 years to reach maturity in Ontario, many of their nests are predated by Raccoons, and they face ongoing threats of wetland loss, traffic mortality (often adult females looking for places to nest), and persecution by people. Given all these factors, many people were upset that the MNRF was not going to end the hunting of Snapping Turtles in Ontario. Many organizations, including the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club, Ontario Nature, and the David Suzuki Foundation mounted a campaign to encourage people to tell the government that the Snapping Turtle should not be hunted.

Newly hatched snappers face many challenges from the time they emerge from their nest. The new ban on hunting removes at least one of them. (photo by David Seburn)

Over 13,000 comments were submitted on the proposed hunting regulations and the effort paid off. In the revised regulations, posted on March 31, the government of Ontario had removed the Snapping Turtle from the hunting list. Thanks to everyone who urged the government to end the hunt.

This is a great victory for the Snapping Turtle and everyone who took the time to write to the government about this issue. It is also a powerful lesson to those who care about nature. Current events in the world, particularly south of the border, can make it easy to believe that things are hopeless. But governments do listen to people. When we join together, our voices can be heard and public policy can be changed. It is not always easy, but persistence can pay off. Slow and steady can win the day.

Thanks to everyone who urged the government to end the hunt. Slow and steady can win the day. (photo by Barry Cottam)

Naturalists in the making: 2016 OFNC award winners at the Ottawa Regional Science Fair

by Lucy Patterson

What is the most endangered bird species in the world? What is the best way to contain an oil spill? Will the emerald ash borer begin attacking lilacs once ash trees have died out? These questions and many more were tackled by students on April 8 and 9 this year at the annual Ottawa Regional Science Fair. Since 1961, this volunteer-run event has encouraged students from grades 7 to 12 in the Ottawa-Carleton region to design, develop, and present research projects in science and engineering. The students with the best projects are then invited to participate in a Canada-Wide Science Fair. This year, the Ottawa Regional Science Fair was held at Carleton University’s “Raven’s Nest.”

Every year, the OFNC presents awards to the creators of two or three outstanding projects that “demonstrate a knowledge of some aspect of natural history, field ecology, or wildlife conservation.” This year, I judged the projects with Kathy Conlan, a research scientist and the section head of zoology at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Students self-nominate themselves for the award, and this year there were 17 entries. In a world where interest in nature seems to be losing ground to technology, it was wonderful to see so many entries for this award!

Winners of OFNC awards this year were Dexter McIlroy, for his project demonstrating the effects of acid on mollusc shells (“L’acidification des océans’’ or “Ocean Acidification’’); Daniel Anderson, for his invention to prevent wildlife from being struck by tractors during haying season (“La chair de poule” or “Goosebumps”), and Maizie Solomon and Tara Hanson-Wright, for their project demonstrating the role of earthworms in soil decomposition (“Nature’s Gold Mine”). Each project was awarded a $100 prize. Congratulations to Dexter, Daniel, Maizie, and Tara for their exceptional projects!

Dexter McIlroy  with his project, “Ocean Acidification.”

Dexter McIlroy with his project, “Ocean Acidification.”

Daniel Anderson with his project, “Goosebumps.”

Daniel Anderson with his project, “Goosebumps.”

Maizie Soloman (left) and Tara Hanson-Wright in front of their project, “Nature’s Gold Mine.”

Maizie Soloman (left) and Tara Hanson-Wright in front of their project, “Nature’s Gold Mine.”

OFNC communications: building a new website

clipart-typingby Lynn Ovenden, Website Working Group

The club is building a website that can become the central place to find all OFNC news and information.

For those with a technical interest, the new website will be built in WordPress. Each OFNC committee will receive website training to add event listings and blog posts to the new site at their convenience and to make any changes to their committee information. The website will function equally well on desktop computers, laptops, and mobile devices.

A new website is OFNC’s first step toward improving communications to OFNC members. Modern tools enable the club to integrate email, blog, newsletter, and social media communications through the website. Our goal is a system where information and news about all OFNC activities can be shared via one central club email, one Facebook page, and Trail & Landscape. We want OFNC members to have easy access to this information. We also want to make it easy for the communicators in the club to communicate.

Do you recall the 2015 member survey (see T&L 49(3):87 and Field Notes May 11, 2015)? Communications consultant, Heather Badenoch of Village PR, developed the survey and interviewed OFNC members from every committee from January to May 2015. We learned how OFNC members like to receive information and that OFNC currently uses about 30 different communication methods to reach OFNC members if we include the various website, email, and Facebook systems of individual committees.

Village PR submitted its final report on last year’s surveys (some details are now out-of-date) with nine recommendations for OFNC’s future communications. The board of directors took the report under advisement and asked that a working group begin by developing a modern website that can support some of the other recommendations.

Big thanks to OFNC members who are helping with this process: Annie Belair, Mark Brenchley, Owen Clarkin, Barry Cottam, Ted Farnworth, Sandy Garland, Christine Hanrahan, Anouk Houdeman, Rob Lee, Lynn Ovenden, Luke Periard, Rémy Poulin, Chris Traynor, Ken Young, and Eleanor Zurbrigg. We receive strategic communication guidance from Heather Badenoch of Village PR and have been joined by web developer Osamu Wakabayashi of Zen Ideas.

With any questions about this project, please contact Lynn at bigskies at xplornet dot ca.

My experience as an OFNC blogger

By Jessica Sutton

Jessica-SuttonJessica Sutton is a 2nd-year University of Ottawa student in Environmental Studies and Biology. This fall, Jessica volunteered with the OFNC through the university’s Community Service Learning (CSL) program. The CSL program creates “placements” that link interested students with community organizations who will supervise a student’s 30 hours of volunteer work on a specified project over the course of a semester.

I really enjoyed my placement! As a student, I am constantly writing academic-style pieces and lengthy lab reports. Having the chance to do some writing that wasn’t so strict was really nice. I also had had no previous experience with WordPress or blog-writing in general, so it broadened my writing ability, too.

The events were especially fun. The Insect Workshop and Mushrooming were my favourites. Before my placement, I had looked at cross-sections of fungi and other various plant cells under the microscope during class labs, but that’s about it. The outings gave me a greater hands-on experience. I was able to meet like-minded individuals and get help from other volunteers or attendees. I was also able to help others with microscopes, etc.

At the events, I found that many people were interested in getting event summaries. I’ve seen posts on the Facebook page of members asking to be brought up to speed about what they missed. So, I certainly believe that the volunteer position is worthwhile, and it ensures a steady stream of posts for at least 5 OFNC events.

In addition to this, the volunteer experience is just that – great experience. I’ve found that in university, getting hands-on experience is difficult because the classes are so big, and only so many outings and other events can be organized to facilitate hundreds of students. Because of this, many students look for program-related volunteer or work experience. I especially liked the Community Service Learning placement because it is directly related to my program of study. It is also a chance to meet members of the community that work, or are interested, in various areas related to one’s program – making connections and networking are very important!

And yes, I’d like to stay in contact with the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club! I plan to try to find some more volunteer positions in various areas to test the waters a little bit. I will be attending events here and there and I don’t mind writing posts at all!

Jessica wrote the following posts for us. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as we did (OFNC Education and Publicity Committee).

A national symbol honoured by a local naturalist

By Natalie Sopinka

At the September monthly meeting OFNC members were treated to an enlightening and entertaining presentation on Canada’s national animal, the beaver. Showcased on The Hudson’s Bay Company’s coat of arms and Parks Canada’s logo, and the first animal to be featured on a postage stamp, the beaver is a well-recognized emblem of Canadian culture and history. The beaver is also the topic covered in a new book by naturalist, OFNC member of 40+ years, and Carleton University Instructor Michael Runtz – Dam BuildersThe Natural History of Beavers and their Ponds. Through photographs and stories, Mike shared many fascinating aspects of beaver natural history.

Beaver basics
Here in Canada resides the North American beaver (Castor canadensis). Their orange teeth are iron rich and tough enough to chew through trees. This is a good thing because beavers are quite fond of trees – different kinds (e.g., willow, alder, birch, poplar) and their different components (branches, twigs, leaves, bark). Wood (primarily bark) not only forms a major part of the beaver’s diet (along with terrestrial and aquatic plants including water-lilies) but is also used as building material for their structures.

Construction usually starts with the building of a dam, which results in a pond. Next, a lodge is built. Beavers are especially industrious during the autumn, ensuring their lodges are well insulated with mud that helps keep them warm during the cold winter months. In addition, near the lodge they create a food cache, of which the top portion is often adorned with less edible sticks that get frozen in the ice while the edible branches placed on the bottom remain accessible all winter.

Whether it’s grooming between mom and kits, territorial disputes among rival males or aggressive tail slapping to deter a predator, beavers are social creatures and lodges house family groups spanning three generations.

Components of a beaver pond. Source: Google images

Components of a beaver pond. Source: Google images


A keystone species
A beaver dam dramatically changes its surrounding environment, in the process benefiting numerous flora and fauna. The formation of a beaver pond is coupled with growth of aquatic vegetation rich in sodium, which moose consume to fulfill dietary needs. Dead trees provide fodder for beetles, nest sites for Northern Flickers, and supports for the assembly of spiderwebs. Fallen trees provide basking spots for painted turtles and grooming platforms for ducks. Fish seek shelter in the submerged food caches, and breeding amphibians use ponds as nurseries for young tadpoles.

When a dam breaks, the beaver pond transforms into a meadow, a thriving ecosystem full of grasses, sedges and wildflowers that attract myriad pollinators and grazing bears. Meadow voles scurry about, providing sustenance for foxes, hawks, owls, snakes and weasels. Moose sometimes mate in beaver meadows and wolf pups play in the meadows while their parents hunt. Eventually forest growth engulfs a meadow, making the habitat suitable once again for the return of beavers and their ponds.

The human connection
The natural history of beavers is also intertwined with the lives of humans. Mike likened beaver ponds to living art galleries. For naturalists, photographers, educators, and families exploring beaver ponds is a year-round adventure. Next time you find yourself saying “I’m bored,” head outdoors and stop by your local beaver pond.

Let’s talk about Lepidoptera – National Moth Week

By Natalie Sopinka

Catoptilia stigmatella. Photo: Suzanne Deschenes

Catoptilia stigmatella. Photo: Suzanne Deschenes

The OFNC and its members are quite fond of moths – leading excursions to locate moths in Larose Forest, keeping track of moths in the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, showcasing the diversity and beauty of this butterfly relative via numerous photographs, and simply observing nightly visitors to porch lights.

Last week (July 19-27) was National Moth Week, a global, citizen science initiative to promote nighttime exploration of this creature that plays an important role in maintaining ecosystem health. Though moth-specific outings in Ottawa weren’t organized this year for National Moth Week, this is an event that is on OFNC’s radar for 2015.

The week-long natural history celebration for “moth-ers” was established by naturalists and has gained considerable media attention in the US, including an article in The New York Times.

I knew little of moths before finding out about National Moth Week on Twitter. I learned many tidbits of information through Twitter and did some online moth exploration myself. Now I am amazed by their behaviour, popular culture, and fuzziness.

So without further adieu, a few moth facts and photos.

Don’t touch! Spines on Io moth (Automeris io) caterpillars are filled with venom!

Andrei Sourakov

Andrei Sourakov

Soapweed yucca plants (Yucca glauca) and yucca moths (Tegeticulla yuccasellaneed each other to survive.

Source: Robert & Linda Mitchell

Robert & Linda Mitchell

Silkworm moths (Bombyx mori) can drive a (robot) car toward female pheromones!

Moth-controlled robot (Ando et. al. 2013 Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. Volume 8)

Moth-controlled robot (Ando et. al. 2013 Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. Volume 8)

The Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) – part cotton candy, part cotton ball?

Patrick Spurlock

Patrick Spurlock

“Poop-eating sloth moths”, need I say more?

The Death’s head hawkmoth (Genus Acherontia) is not only known in film, but also prose – Edgar Allan’s Poe’s, The Sphinx.

Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

Member profile – Stewart Curry

Members of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club are as diverse as the taxa they study; from birders to botanists, highschool students to university professors, backyard garden admirers to conservation officers. The OFNC blog will be featuring profiles of members to showcase the incredible array of natural history enthusiasts. Whether you’ve just joined or are a lifetime member, please contact if you’d like to share your natural history story!


By Stewart Curry

Stewart Curry - Photographer by trade, birder in training

Stewart Curry – Photographer by trade, birder in training

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a passion for photography. Whenever I am awake, I want to be outside with my camera. It started when I received my first Brownie box camera for my tenth birthday. Before I had snapped my first still, curiosity got the best of me and I took that camera apart piece by piece, never managing to put it back together again. Seeing how that shutter worked filled me with wonder at the mechanical wizardry of image capture.

Common Yellow Throat (Geothlypis trichas), Kanata Beaver Pond, May 2014

Common Yellow Throat (Geothlypis trichas), Kanata Beaver Pond, May 2014

Not long after, on what I still think of as my best Christmas Day ever, my parents gave me my first 35mm rangefinder camera. My father made sure my new camera had full manual control over shutter speed and aperture and not just the programmed automatic mode we all know today. He knew that my best shot at making great photographs was to build a detailed understanding of the whole process. There was no turning back.

I took some great photographs with that little camera, shots I remember vividly to this day. Eventually, seeking even greater control of the art, I saved up and headed with my father to Mendelsohn’s Pawn Shop on Craig Street in Montréal. There I traded in my rangefinder for (somebody’s) Minolta SRT-101 SLR. With the trade it set me back $80 — big bucks for a 12 year old. At last I felt like a grown-up.

Day after day, I spent hour after hour in fields and forests just minutes from my parents’ house in Pierrefonds, near Rivière des Prairies at the northwestern limit of the Island of Montréal. While most kids were racing their bikes with baseball cards whirring in the spokes, I was out examining landscapes — sun dappled havens filled with endless species of birds, trees, lichens, and beetles, and endless arrays of plants and flowers, spectacular in their tangled waves of colour. I knew nothing about nature other than that these things were beautiful.

That blossoming passion for photography lasted for decades, leading me in my 20th year to the Dawson Institute of Photography in Montréal where my world of photography exploded outward with access to the world’s best gear under the guidance of seasoned experts. But eventually, the daily pressures of work and family allowed me less and less time to pursue my leisurely first love. Then, with the advent of digital photography, my passion seemed to dwindle right into oblivion. I simply could not imagine a world of photography without my prized Kodachrome slide film. I was a dinosaur that just couldn’t fit in to the new digital world. Despondent, I sold all my gear.

I had stopped but nature rolled on. Some years later, as my wife and I discovered the simple pleasures of hiking and kayaking and skiing and snowshoeing, the fields and forests once again seemed to come alive with tiny expressions of unstoppable and inexpressible life — creatures and views that cried to have their pictures taken. Everywhere I looked, I saw an opportunity to record a miracle.

Twelve months ago I acquired a DSLR and there has been no turning back. My wife and I now head out on most weekends with our cameras, and over the past year I have taken over 10,000 images. Birds have become one of our favourite subjects. Given our new fascination, we have bumped into many self-declared birders. We thought them quite odd at first, running around as they do with their Tilly hats, binoculars and notepads. But we quickly became aware of how little we knew about what we were photographing. So we invested in a Birds of Canada guide and started identifying (or at least trying to) each bird we photograph. Our knowledge has added a new depth to our pastime.

Mind you, I couldn’t care less if the bird in my viewfinder is a rare visitor or a common pest. My passion remains the photography itself; my only desire is to capture the beauty and magnificence that I see every day in our surroundings. I’m a birder on a mission. Coming at birds from a different direction than most, I know I have much to learn about bird life but plenty to offer about putting those critters on “film.” If you need any tips on capturing fabulous images with whatever camera equipment you have, just look for me in the woods. I’ll be the big bald guy flipping through the bird book and scratching his head.

All photos taken by Stewart Curry with a Canon 5D Mark lll and Canon EF L 100-400 zoom.

Stewart will be leading the “Getting to know your DSLR” photography workshop on Sunday, July 27th (9 am-2 pm) at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden Interpretive Centre, more information at!

Spring is in the air

By Natalie Sopinka

Ever get stumped trying to describe that smell after a misty, spring rain when the grass is dewy and lush? Well that smell has an official term, petrichor. Produced by interactions between plant oils, bacteria, and an organic compound called geosmin, petrichor is the earthy aroma after rain.

This spring, as the flowers bloom and the temperatures climb, the number of baby bird images being shared with OFNC’s Facebook group is also increasing exponentially. Time to test your baby bird vocabulary!

Goslings, or baby geese, are being spotted all around Ottawa this Spring.

Photo: Shelley Dinn Morphy, Macoun Marsh

Canada Goose Branta canadensis, Photo: Shelley Dinn Morphy, Macoun Marsh

No surprise here, these baby ducks following momma are ducklings.

Aix sponsa, Photo: Joe Wilson, Kanata

Wood duck Aix sponsa, Photo: Joe Wilson, Kanata

Ottawa’s very own baby peregrine falcons, or eyases.

Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Photo: Anouk Hoedeman, Downtown Ottawa

Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), Photo: Anouk Hoedeman, downtown Ottawa

This cygnet/flapper will grow to be a majestic swan one day.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) Graham Checkley, PBase

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), Photo: Graham Checkley, PBase

And a partridge in a pear tree, or in this case cheepers on a shoe!

Chinese Bamboo Partridge (Bambusicola thoracicus), Photo: Ishikawa Ken, Flickr

Chinese Bamboo Partridge (Bambusicola thoracicus), Photo: Ishikawa Ken, Flickr

A baby puffin can be referred to as a puffling, cute name for a cute chick!

Emily Pipher

Atlantic puffin, (Fratercula arctica), Photo: Emily Pipher, The Internet Bird Collection (IBC)

Might this young chicken pair be a pullet (female) and cockrell (male)?

Gallus gallus domesticus, Photo: Laura Alice Watt, Flickr

Domestic chicken Gallus gallus domesticus, Photo: Laura Alice Watt, Flickr

Nothing to see here, just a mother owl’s ridiculously fluffy owlets.

Barn owl Tyto alba, Photo: Jenelle, Living in the Woods

“It’s not easy waking up this good looking,” said the pigeon squab/squeaker.

Columba livia, Photo: Amanda Richards

Rock dove/pigeon Columba livia, Photo: Amanda Richards, Flickr

Nature Canada’s Bird Day Fair 2014

By Natalie Sopinka

A special visitor to the OFNC booth

Can you spot the special visitor to the OFNC booth?

On Saturday May 31st Nature Canada held its 2nd annual Bird Day Fair at Andrew Haydon Park and members of the OFNC were on hand to celebrate our avian friends. Mark Brenchley, Natalie Sopinka, Julia Cipriani and Anouk Hoedeman manned the club’s booth greeting numerous visitors, including a parrot! The day was filled with bird banding demos, falconry, bird walks, face painting, nest-building and live music. Numerous organizations participated in the event including:

At mid-day, several talks were given on topics ranging from bird brains to bird feeders. Dr. Adam Smith from Ottawa Bird Count impressed the crowd with his bird stats. Did you know there are 2 million birds living in Ottawa and the most common species is the American Robin? There are approximately 160 000 robins in the nation’s capital!

Eric Garrison from Wild Birds Unlimited reminded us that feeding birds is good for the birds (health, reduced predation, population stability) and good for us (birding).

Dr. Julie Morand-Ferron from the University of Ottawa talked about her research on local chickadee populations. Dr. Morand-Ferron’s lab studies how urban and forest chickadees learn and socialize. Nature Canada’s Sarah Kirkpatrick-Wahl (lead organizer of the Bird Day Fair) shared numerous ways humans and birds can harmoniously cohabit cities. Also from Nature Canada, Alex MacDonald gave a brief introduction to various online tools, such as eBird, Naturehood and Tweet of the Week, that connect us with nature and when used by citizens provide valuable information scientists use to monitor birds in the wild (also known as citizen science).

The Fletcher Wildlife Garden’s Great Blue Heron joined the festivities as well and was quite popular with the children and adults alike!

Photos by: Mark Brenchley and Natalie Sopinka